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Practice Promising Practices

Tools of the Mind:

Helping Children Develop Self-Regulation
By Mark Katz, PhD

Given the important role that self-regulation, working memory, and other execu-
tive functions play in a child’s school success, it should come as no surprise why many early childhood
educators are excited about Tools of the Mind. Developed by Deborah Leong, PhD, and Elena Boedrova,
Parents, educators,
PhD, of Denver, Colorado, the program teaches children how to use different mental tools to gain greater
health care
control of their social, emotional and cognitive behaviors. Tools include things like learning to plan your
providers and well
informed consumers actions and how to anticipate handling situations that are hard for you. For example, children who have
are finding creative difficulty taking turns learn to identify a turn-taking situation and practice tangible strategies for making
ways to address turn-taking fair during classroom activities.
the needs and daily
challenges of those
who struggle with
AD/HD. In each
issue of Attention,
we highlight
one innovative
program, model, or
practice and pass
on appropriate
contacts so you
can implement
similar efforts in
your community.
Appearance in
this column,
however, does
The Tools of the Mind program received quite a ry), and flexibly adjust to change (cognitive flexibility).
not imply bit of media attention following the publication of a For further information on this study, read the article
endorsement 2007 study of its effectiveness. Conducted by Adele “Preschool Program Improves Cognitive Control” by
by CHADD. Diamond, PhD, professor of developmental cognitive Diamond and her colleagues that appeared in Science
science at the University of British Columbia, the study (30 November 2007: 1387-1388).
showed that children enrolled in preschool classrooms The program, which consists of forty individual-
using Tools of the Mind improved in their ability to re- ized fun-filled imaginative play and learning activi-
sist distractions and temptations (inhibitory control), ties, requires children to use private speech, a skill
mentally hold information in mind (working memo- that researchers say is key to improving self-regula-
tion. Activities also emphasize planning and work-
Mark Katz, PhD, is a clinical and consulting psychologist and the director of Learning ing memory in increasing amounts. “Self-regulation
Development Services, an educational, psychological and neuropsychological center practice is embedded in all classroom activities,” say
located in San Diego, California. He is a contributing editor to Attention magazine Leong and Boedrova. “Children are strengthening
and a member of its editorial advisory board, a former member of CHADD’s executive functions simply by engaging in everyday
professional advisory board, and a recipient of the CHADD Hall of Fame Award. routines, play, and the learning of academic skills.” As

6 Attention
children are having fun and learning, their self-regulation grows at
the same time. For children needing additional external supports
or “scaffolding” to be successful, teachers are coached on how to
provide this. As children become better “masters of their own be-
havior,” external supports are gradually relaxed.
Tools of the Mind is currently being implemented in more than
450 preschool and kindergarten regular education and special edu-
cation classrooms throughout the United States. Children’s progress
is measured through a dynamic assessment process embedded in
the program. As children respond to instruction through teacher
prompts, hints, and cues, their responses are recorded along with
which hints and prompts worked best with each individual child.
Data are then used to assist teach-
ers in prescriptively tailoring new
“Self-regulation practice activities. Schools are finding the
is embedded in all program compatible with Re-
classroom activities,” sponse to Intervention (RTI).
say Leong and Boedrova. Proponents of Tools believe
that executive functions can be
“Children are strengthened if children are pro-
strengthening vided activities that require them
executive functions to use these functions in increas-
simply by engaging ingly more complex ways. This is
very hopeful news for parents and
in everyday teachers of young school-aged chil-
routines, play, and dren showing weaknesses in self-
the learning of regulation and other related skills.
academic skills.” Tools is based on the work
of the Russian psychologist Lev
Vygotsky. Boedrova worked
with Vygotsky’s students in Russia before coming to the United
States. Those interested in learning more about the program’s the-
oretical underpinnings can read the book by Bodrova and Leong,
Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood
Education (Prentice Hall, second edition, 2007).
Readers are encouraged to visit, the program’s
website, for more general information about Tools of the Mind, in-
cluding training requirements and program costs. Readers might also
wish to listen to NPR news stories about a preschool using the Tools
Losevsky Pavel / shutterstock

program and the role of imaginative play in helping children improve

self-control. One story, “Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control” by
Alix Spiegel, can be found on the NPR website ( or through
links under the News and Events section of the Tools of the Mind
website. Another NPR news story of possible interest, “Old-Fashioned
Play Builds Serious Skills,” can be found those websites as well. ●

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